BY WENDY HAAF
In December 2017, Linda Morse of St.-Lin, Que., felt she was living her best life. After having married young, raised four children to adulthood, and undergone a divorce, Morse finally met and married the love of her life, Roger Francoeur.
Five years into newly married life, it seemed as if her fresh start might be abruptly cut short.
Morse was experiencing pain in her abdomen and soon learned it was due to a lump on her kidney, diagnosed as early-stage renal cell cancer. She subsequently had her kidney removed, and her urologist assured her she’d need no further treatment or even follow-up appointments. While surprised by the doctor’s advice, she returned to her life with Roger to pick up where they’d left off before her diagnosis.
However, one year later, Morse, then 56, collapsed with exhaustion after coming home from her job one day. She underwent tests to determine why she was so tired and losing weight. Morse and her husband sat in shock as her family doctor, eyes brimming with tears, delivered the news of a devastating diagnosis.
It was far worse than she could have imagined: Morse had stage-4 (advanced) cancer. “I asked my physician what this meant, and she told me, ‘It’s critical.’”
How critical? A few days later, Morse, her husband and adult kids crowded into another oncologist’s office to find out. A biopsy revealed the original cancer had spread rapidly, forming growths in Morse’s lungs. The oncologist told Morse the only treatment he could offer — a drug that may well have had good results when the cancer was at an earlier stage — could now only buy her time. “I’m a person that likes having facts, so I asked, ‘What kind of time?’,” Morse says. “And he told me six months to a year at best.”
When Morse asked about other treatment options, she was referred to a research urologic oncologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Centre (CHUM), where a specialist recommended a clinical trial with a new in in fusion treatment. “He said there are no promises, that this was ‘all new’,” Morse says. “But I had nothing to lose—here was something that could give me a chance to live.”
That was five years ago.
Morse would later learn that countless scientists and researchers around the world, working continuously behind the scenes developing and testing new drugs, were giving people with serious cancers more treatment options than ever before. “There are a lot of steps to bring a drug from the research lab into a patient’s body,” says Mary Tzortzis, Head of Clinical Operations at Bristol Myers Squibb Canada.
Many of the healthcare researchers carry out that work right here in Canada, she adds. “As the Canadian research landscape grows and evolves, BMS initiates clinical trials with re-search centres and investigators across the country,” Tzortzis says. “We source innovation internally and externally, building on our strong internal R&D, and by tapping into and accelerating the science happening around us.”
But what motivates BMS goes much deeper than the desire to drive new science and treatments forward. “Not a day goes by without us thinking about patients like Linda — their strength and hope fuel our purpose to come to work every day,” Tzortzis stresses.